One of my favorite summertime activities as a kid was catching lightning bugs in a glass jar. That was back when the luminous beetles, also known as fireflies, were in abundance in backyards across America.
Light pollution and development, scientists suspect, has caused the flashy little buggers to all but disappear in urban areas, leaving our summer nights a little darker and less magical.
But fret not. You can still catch the light show at Congaree National Park, a 26,000-acre federally protected forest just 20 minutes from the state capital.
Far from Columbia's city lights, the park attracts a large population of fireflies, including a rare species of lightning bug that can synchronize its flashing.
The process of light production in fireflies is called bioluminescence and occurs in the light-emitting organs of the abdomen. What we think is entertaining is actually a "come hither" wink to the opposite sex.
One of the best places to see fireflies in the park is on the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop. The elevated section of walkway winds through a forest of old-growth trees, ending at the Weston Lake overlook.
"You'll see the flashing lights right away," Park Ranger Vikki Pasco said. "The trees at the back of the lake are full of fireflies."
Each species has a particular sequence it uses to attract a mate. In the park, the color of the light you'll see will be either green or white.
Congaree National Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Admission is free. For more information, click here or call (803) 776-4396.
Bring water and bug spray, but leave your glass jars behind. Possessing or removing any natural resources from the park is a big no-no.